1-3 September – Battle Of The Drocourt-Quéant Line
On September 1st the Canadian corps were able to take a strategic point known as the Crow’s Nest that overlooked a large portion of the D-Q Line, capturing 200 German prisoners along with a number of weapons including dozens of machine guns. The following day the Canadian Corps would begin their assault on the Drocourt-Quéant Line, though many commanders had grave misgivings about it. They would have little time to prepare and wouldn’t be able to rely on greatly needed additional armored or artillery support.
Currie attempted to utilize the Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade under Brig. Gen. Raymond Brutinel, however the rough terrain of the battlefied would render them useless and see many damaged or destroyed by machine gun and artillery fire.
Amid some of the fiercest fighting to that point the Canadian Corps had managed to breach the D-Q Line across a front 6km wide. The tank companies that had supported the assault would be charged with neutalizing concrete bunkers and machine gun nests as well as helping to clear the thick masses of barbed wire. By the end of the day three more villages would be liberated, and a record seven Canadians would be awarded the Victoria Cross for their actions during that day.
By the end of the day on September 3rd the Canadian Corps had pushed the Germans back to their next defensive line, the Canal du Nord, and advanced a total of 8km over the course of the three days of the battle. It would come at a heavy cost as the Corps lost nearly 300 officers and over 5,300 soldiers.
Seven Victoria Crosses Awarded
A single day’s record of seven Canadian soldiers were awarded the Victoria Cross for their actions on 2 September. Two of them were Americans though, who had come to Canada after the outbreak of war to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force.
Lance Cpl. William Henry Metcalf
Born in the US in 1885, Metcalfe came to Canada when the war broke out to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force and served with the 16th Infantry Battalion. He was awarded the Military Medal in 1916 for his actions during the Battle Of The Somme, and on September 2nd, 1918, he would earn the VC for actions near the village of Cagnicourt. The citation reads:
“For most conspicuous bravery, initiative and devotion to duty in attack, when, the right flank of the battalion being held up, he realised the situation and rushed forward under intense machine-gun fire to a passing Tank on the left. With his signal flag he walked in front of the Tank, directing it along the trench in a perfect hail of bullets and bombs. The machine-gun strong points were overcome, very heavy casualties were inflicted on the enemy, and a very critical situation was relieved.
Later, although wounded, he continued to advance until ordered to get into a shell hole and have his wounds dressed.
His valour throughout was of the highest standard.”(London Gazette, no.31012, 15 November 1918)
Capt. Bellenden Seymour Hutcheson
Born at Mount Carmel in 1885, Bellenden Hutcheson graduated medical school from Northwestern University and came to Canada at the breakout of the war, joining the Canadian Expeditionary Force as a medical officer in the 75th Infantry Battalion. He was awarded the VC for his actions treating the wounded under fire on September 2nd. His citation reads:
“For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty on September 2nd, when under most intense shell, machine-gun and rifle fire, he went through the Quéant-Drocourt Support Line with the battalion. Without hesitation and with utter disregard of personal safety he remained on the field until every wounded man had been attended to. He dressed the wounds of a seriously wounded officer under terrific machine-gun and shell fire, and, with the assistance of prisoners and of his own men, succeeded in evacuating him to safety, despite the fact that the bearer party suffered heavy casualties.
Immediately afterwards he rushed forward, in full view of the enemy, under heavy machine-gun and rifle fire, to tend a wounded serjeant, and, having placed him in a shell-hole, dressed his wounds. Captain Hutcheson performed many similar gallant acts, and, by his coolness and devotion to duty, many lives were saved.”(London Gazette, no.31067, 14 December 1918)
The Last Hundred Days
The Vimy Foundation